Teen marijuana use has crept up in recent years after nearly a decade of decline, while tobacco and alcohol use have continued going down overall, according to a new survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Marijuana use has fluctuated over the decades
The CDC's survey found that marijuana use among teens dropped for nearly a decade after a peak in 1999. Use again ticked up for a few years after 2007, but it seemed to flatten out between 2011 and 2013.
During this period of ups and downs, states moved to relax their marijuana laws: 21 states legalized medical marijuana, and other states decriminalized possession as well.
Tobacco and alcohol use are trending down
At the same time, American teens reported using less alcohol and cigarettes.
The slight uptick in recent marijuana use and continuing downward trend in alcohol and tobacco lend credence to the idea that people might substitute much more dangerous drugs with the relatively safe marijuana.
That would match the implications of previous research that found some adults substitute their alcohol use with marijuana. As Meenakshi Subbaraman of the Alcohol Research Group at the Public Health Institute previously explained, some people just want to relax at the end of the day, and whether they do it through alcohol or marijuana is personal preference.
Drug use seems unaffected by stricter laws
The CDC's latest survey suggests there's little correlation between drug use and laws restricting it.
The CDC wouldn't be the first to reach this conclusion. Two studies from 2012 and 2014 found that medical marijuana legalization did not lead to more drug use among teenagers. Another study of Australia found decriminalization led to five-year uptick in use, but the policy seemed to have no impact after that.
Supporters of the war on drugs often argue that relaxing drug laws will increase access to drugs and therefore lead more youth to the path of addiction and abuse.
But marijuana advocates claim that legalization can lead to less youth use with proper regulations and education. The ongoing decline of tobacco and alcohol use, over a period in which the government was making intensive efforts to reduce youth drinking and smoking, seems to support that conclusion.
The survey only covered 42 states. It does not, for instance, include Washington or Colorado, both of which legalized marijuana in 2012. So the survey only speaks to the potential effects of medical marijuana and decriminalization, which could affect youth use differently than full legalization.
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